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Juvenile injustice: Low-income families pay brunt of fees and fines that vary by county

On Behalf of | May 17, 2024 | Firm News

A recent investigation by the University of Notre Dame’s Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy, reported in the Indianapolis Star, exposes stark disparities in juvenile justice fees across Indiana counties. These fees, which vary widely by location, disproportionately affect low-income families and have profound impacts on their financial stability and livelihoods.

The story of Rick Dempsey illustrates the burdensome nature of these costs. After his son’s minor legal infraction, Dempsey, a resident of Porter County, faced a myriad of fees—from initial court costs to monthly probation fees. The financial strain was compounded by job losses due to his commitments to comply with court mandates, underscoring the broader consequences of such fees on family stability.

Porter County, where fees collected in 2021 significantly exceeded those in other counties, exemplifies the “justice by geography” phenomenon, where the financial demands on families depend heavily on their residential county. The investigation reveals that while some counties charge minimal fees, others impose charges up to $4,100 per case.

Attorney Harold Harper, featured in the article, emphasizes the severe impact of these fees on already financially strained families, particularly highlighting their disproportionate effect on children of color. Harper’s insights bring attention to the systemic issues that exacerbate economic disparities and racial biases within the juvenile justice system.

Despite some states making progress by eliminating juvenile justice fees, Indiana’s efforts remain modest. The article calls for more comprehensive reform to address these inequities and ensure a fairer system that does not disproportionately penalize disadvantaged families. The personal and societal challenges highlighted in the report stress the urgent need for systemic change to achieve true justice.